Jet Duel: Shouldn’t the Jets start Christian Hackenberg this week?

The New York Jets announced this week that Ryan Fitzpatrick will start at quarterback for their season finale against the Buffalo Bills. Bryce Petty landed on the injured reserve with a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder and rookie Christian Hackenberg, who hasn’t dressed for a game all year, is the only other healthy QB on the roster.

Sunday’s showdown will be a meaningless game for both sides. Buffalo just fired Rex and Rob Ryan and appointed former Jets assistant coach for the one-week interim. Besides that intrigue, the game is forgettable–leading some fans to question whether Hackenberg should start and get some experience on the field.

Our Matt Barbato and Adam Zielonka debate what’s going on with Hackenberg in our newest Jet Duel.

Adam Zielonka: Don’t read too much into it

Christian Hackenberg will not win the sort of awards fellow rookie QB Dak Prescott might this year. The second-rounder out of Penn State instead might be deemed the reach of the year in the 2016 draft class.

It’s easy to contrast Hack’s irrelevance all year with the success of Prescott and even Carson Wentz. It’s just as easy to spin panicky theories about why Todd Bowles and the coaching staff barely gave him a thought all year behind Fitzpatrick, Petty and Geno Smith. Is he that far from being ready?

I can’t speak to the decisions made from Weeks 1-16, but if he hasn’t seen game action since the last week of preseason, then why throw him in against starters so suddenly? Furthermore, four of the Jets’ original five starting offensive linemen have found their way to IR this year, so it’s not safe out there for a project quarterback. Putting Hackenberg behind that line evokes Rex Ryan throwing Mark Sanchez behind a third-string offensive line in the 2013 preseason.

Then again, Hackenberg’s used to playing behind porous offensive lines at Penn State.

“If Fitz gets hurt and [Hackenberg] gets to play, you’ll see him play, but if not it doesn’t mean anything plus or minus that we’re not playing him this year,” Bowles said this week. “We had a plan for him going in when we drafted him. He’s taken a lot of reps in practice. … Putting him in right now isn’t going to hurt or help him.”

Bowles is right. Put aside the brief history of Hack’s career – there’s no reason for him to play this one game and there’s no reason to see it as alarming for the future.

Matt Barbato: Shouldn’t we still be concerned, though? I’m not trying to admonish the Jets for not starting Hackenberg. I actually agree with the decision. But, that doesn’t mean I’m happy with it.

Allow me to explain: The Jets used important draft capital to select Hackenberg. A second-round pick is nothing to scoff at. So, the fact that he’s getting the identical treatment as Bryce Petty — a fourth-round pick who was practically locked in a dungeon during his rookie season — really scares me.

I think it’s unfair to compare him to Prescott, Goff or Wentz. Heck, even Cody Kessler has played for the Cleveland Browns as a third-round pick. You mean to tell me these guys were all that far ahead of where Hackenberg was entering his rookie season?

You don’t draft projects in the second round. You probably don’t draft projects in the third round. And now there are reports that Hackenberg won’t be ready to contribute to this team in 2017? That’s alarming.

Now, I want to be patient with the Penn State product. He had a rough go at Penn State after losing Bill O’Brien, but he proved he could play in a pro system. The concerns about his mechanics are worrisome, however.

Sure, the Jets would be crazy to throw Hackenberg into a Week 17 game behind the lousy line Adam mentioned and risk an injury, or even worse, a blow to his confidence. But, if Hackenberg wasn’t ready this season and won’t be ready next season, then when will he be ready? Will he ever be ready?

Mike Maccagnan better hope so.

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